As we go to press in late August, leads have died. Business is down for most dealers, for most of the year. Yet one group is hitting sales records: full-service professionals who sell to the upscale, near-luxury market with all window products—blinds, draperies, shadings and shutters—and have great ideas for window stylings. Why? Why are they selling more than ever, and how can you get on the gravy train?
August was a brutal month. Rocked by sub-prime mortgage foreclosures, a roller-coaster stock market, a continued slide in new home construction and a downturn in home sales. Leads and appointments were in the toilet.
Napoleon Hill said it first, back in the 1930s in his famous book, “Think and Grow Rich” (you can find it on page 74 in the paperback edition). He said, “Every adversity has the seed of equivalent or greater success.”
If you are serious about building a successful business this should be the first book on your reading list. The question is, How can you turn this tough year into the beginning of a better and more profitable business than you ever thought possible? Start by following the money to the hottest market segment in window coverings today.
Every industry has buyer segments. Ours is no different. In broad strokes, money defines the first cut. With a median household income of about $50,000 a year, American buyers divide into roughly four segments:
1. The low end, often young apartment dwellers who buy ready-made draperies and cut-down blinds—or nothing at all at their windows.
2. Next, up the ladder are homeowners in the vast middle market of $40,000 to $75,000 per household who can afford custom products—wood, faux wood and affordable shadings products.
In this huge middle market, historical low interest rates enabled millions of families to buy their first homes. They begged, borrowed and saved to get the down payment for a toehold on an ever-increasing real estate market. They knew that owning a home could be the best way to build net worth when the future of social security is uncertain. Now, the boom is dead, for two years at least. If you’re in the custom blinds business serving new home construction buyers, you’re hurting!
3. Now, skip to the luxury market—the upper four percent of homeowners with income of $150,000 to $1 million and more. They want the best for their two-story windows—authentic wood shutters, high-end shadings, $200-a-yard fabrics, automation (motorization) and the very best in tailoring, installation and service.
These customers want more than just quality products; they want great ideas for creative, one-of-a-kind window designs. Along with their window treatments, they may buy furniture, flooring and accessories to coordinate with their unique window creations.
This market is logically served by graduate interior designers and exceptional window stylists. It is a great market—there are more million-dollar homes than ever. More women are spending more money on luxury purses, shoes and shopping. Men are buying them all the extras for the home and fabulous jewelry for personal adornment.
Blinds specialist may make occasional sales to million-dollar homes, but in general this is an unlikely market. You would have to skip up two economic levels. It would take a major overhaul to target this segment and years to learn how. Instead, move one economic segment higher. Then you can build a beautiful business with higher margins and little competition.
SUNLIGHT FOR THE BLINDS MAN
You’ve read it before in my articles—the Golden Opportunity segment is the one segment where there is more action than ever before. It’s a fabulous market representing 21 percent of homeowners with income from $75,000 to $150,000. This upscale, near-luxury segment is buying like crazy. These homeowners are not the young graduates or new managers on a tight budget in their first homes. They’re executives, doctors, lawyers, accountants, small business owners, technical specialists, middle managers and successful salespeople.
This group is not impacted by marginal credit or skimpy savings. They can buy a new home if they want to, or refurbish the one they have. They are not worrying about foreclosures in a sub-prime market or a yo-yo stock market. In fact, their portfolio is up this year.
Blinds specialists—retail stores and van-based businesses—are taking a nosedive for the first time in 20 years. Yet, drapery specialists and full-service window fashions professionals are rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’. They’re setting sales records with great products and fashionable stylings.
The upscale, near-luxury market is no good for trunk slammers with the cheapest price on the street. That’s a guy thing. Women are smarter than that. Please, don’t ask me to be politically correct, gender neutral when it comes to window products sales. Fact is, guys tend to sell blinds, and gals tend to sell draperies. There are exceptions, sure, but we all know the reality 90 percent of the time. Guys sell blinds because they’re functional and we understand that. Gals sell draperies because they understand beauty, color and emotional feelings in a home.
Most guys probably would rather be tarred and feathered than be called a decorator. Thinking about feelings more than pricing might be like talking French to an Eskimo. We guys just don’t get it. But, there is salvation for some of us. Once in awhile a guy discovers an unbelievable fact: Most of his customers are women! Could that mean that a guy should start thinking about what women want in their homes? How revolutionary.
The fact is, women who have money to spend often want more than functional privacy and light control. They want more than the cheapest price in town. They care about beauty and happiness in their homes. They care about color and having their friends over to visit. They care what their friends think about them as a homemaker. If you study psychologist Abraham Maslow, you know that after food, shelter and biological needs are met, human beings want socialization, recognition and acceptance by peers. Those things have nothing to do with products and prices and everything to do with beauty and color and emotion.
SELL BEAUTY AND WIN!
When you learn to sell beauty and emotion you will lift yourself into rare atmosphere where there is virtually no competition. Why? Because all the drapery shops that used to sell all window products are gone. They’re dinosaurs killed by the freezing wind of innovative shadings, blinds and shutters the past 15 years.
Now, a new day is dawning. Blinds, shadings and shutters are still fabulously popular. But thousands of homeowners want more—color, softness, beauty, and warmth. They want window stylings that can be achieved only with fabric. There is a huge and growing demand, driven by homeowners redecorating or adding layers to their windows. Some have been in their homes for 10 years and want a fresh look. Some are remodeling. (Did you know the construction value of remodeling is greater than new home construction?) Some are blinds customers from last year adding more layers and new beauty this year.
FULL SERVICE IS SETTING RECORDS
As a result, full-service window coverings professionals who sell blinds and draperies are setting sales records this summer. Their upscale customers have money. They want beauty for their homes. It is a fabulous market, a growing market, and a market immediately ready for the blinds guy who wants to move up the demographic ladder. It is a market not dependent on new home construction. It is a market where you can sell your past customers—and sell them again and again, year after year. It is a market where your competitors fear to tread. Best of all, it is a market of virtually unlimited profit margins with better customers who value beauty, social acceptance and good ideas as much as they value products.
Traditionally, this is the domain of women—workroom owners, designers, drapery specialists. Well, guys, it doesn’t have to be that way. Put away your fears. Learn how your female customer feels about her home. Then learn a little about color—enough to pick out your own necktie. It is not as hard as you think. Others have jumped in the water and the feeling is good. Remember Tom Miller from my May article (see D&WC, May 2007, page 42)? He did it. Call him and ask him what it was like. You can also ask Fred Garrott in Mississippi, Rose Mendoza in California, and Bob Witham in Montana.
Next month I’ll tell you how it’s done. Can’t wait? Drop me an e-mail. I’ll send you my new report, “Color for the Blinds Man” (steveb@ExcitingWindows.com). I even will include a list of courses you can take online right at home. Until next month, remember what Napoleon Hill said about finding a seed of success in adversity. Make this year’s setback the beginning of a better business. Turn today’s lemon into lemonade—beat your competitors and get on the ground floor of a whole new business. I know you can do it. Get started today and will tell you more in the next issue.
This article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience with sales and financial information working with hundreds of window coverings businesses. Whether you are a sole manager who aspires to higher sales, or you manage 50 window fashion decorators in a multi-million dollar business, this series will help you manage sales better and increase your profitability. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors and author of a how-to book on new business start up, “Bootstrap Entrepreneur,” and is a leading expert in window coverings marketing, sales systems and sales management through his company, custEmers.com. Questions and comments welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (888) 333-8981.